Sugary and sunny and stuffed with melodies, this California quintet are hard to hate, and with omnipresent single ‘Colours’, hard to avoid. One of NME’s bands to watch in 2009, they’ve taken their sweet time in getting their debut out. Only two tracks from their well-received, small-but-perfectly formed 2010 ‘Grouplove’ EP are included here, and the big question must be: will we still love them after a whole album? Or is it kick-a-puppy-in-the-face-o’clock? Let’s see…
‘Itchin’ On A Photograph’
Opening with handclaps and keyboards set to ’80s-fantasy shimmer, it’s clear from the off that as with Black Kids or The Magic Numbers, Grouplove’s surface sweetness is draped over hoary old angst. What starts gentle sounds end in muscular guitar riffs and cascading cymbals, and singer Christian Zucconi’s howl is red-raw.
Talking of Black Kids, the spangly, twee-disco rush of this new single reminds us of no one more. “Take me to your best friend’s house, I loved you then and I love you now” bawls Christian, wide-eyed and innocent and full of adrenaline. Keyboardist Hannah Hooper’s semi-spoken section, meanwhile reminds us of one-hit wonders Len and their ‘Steal My Sunshine’. Which is a good thing.
Three songs in and the general air of jubilation shows no sign of abating on this bouncy stomper of a lovesong with its doo-doo-doo refrain and pleas of “won’t you fill me up”. It may seem odd to compare a lover to a bit of crockery, but hey, wait til you hear my epic weepfest ‘Gravy Boat (Please Don’t Leave)’.
And out comes the big gun. No matter how many times you hear it and you think that single-fingered acoustic guitar line and the playfully repetitive lyrics are going to get annoying, you just can’t argue with the tainted innocence of that drunken sway of a chorus. “No need to be sad/It really ain’t that bad… you’ve still got your health” howls Zucconi from under a cascade of guitar and drum. I don’t know if I believe him.
Hannah takes the lead here for an abrupt change of tone, a sad and spacious thing with a romantic feel, glittering cascades of keys and a pure haunted vocal that slowly builds to a stormy climax.
By far the least Googleable song title on the album, this is the other survivor from the ‘Grouplove’ EP along with ‘Colours’ and you can see why they hung on to it. All that skinny dippying, driving with the top down, summer nostalgia is pretty charming.
Full-on radio rock not a million miles from that Big Talk album, but with a trademark Grouplove sugar coating. At this point Hannah’s little-girl backing vocals begin to get a little irksome, but then she starts SHOUTING, so that’s OK. This also has a lovely coda with ghostly harmonies and rolling drums.
‘Betty’s A Bombshell’
With a world-weary-but-still-uplifted feel, this one’s got an unfortunate touch of the wrong kind of ‘anthemic’ about it.
This countryish radio-pop bouncer is much more like it. “We can go where we wanna go, say what we wanna say, do what we wanna do” enthuses Christian, and kind of makes us want to dance like Emilio Estevez in The Breakfast Club.
‘Love Will Save Your Soul’
Hannah takes the lead again on a more full-throated effort with a lovely, trilling melody on the chorus.
‘Cruel And Beautiful World’
A title like that can only mean one thing: rueful country ballad with a whiskey-laced tear in its eye. CHECK.
‘Close Your Eyes And Count to Ten’
“We lay down in the sand/You took my clothes off with your hands” croons Christian. Look away, children! Ghostly howls and Hannah’s Kim Deal-ish backing vocals suggest half an eye on The Pixies’ ‘Where Is My Mind’. No such existential horrors here, although this subdued, melancholic rocker at least suggest the pain of a misplaced Broken Social Scene album.
We need to listen a little longer to see whether it’s really a keeper, but first reports indicate that there’s enough Grouplove to spread over a whole album.